Esther: An Overview

The following is adapted from volume 1 of The Lutheran Bible Companion on the Book of Esther.

The Book of Esther

In Esther, Israel is in a rough place. King Ahasuerus, a foreign king, lords over the land and threatens to wipe out what is left of the Israelites. Providentially, a young Israelite woman, Esther, becomes Ahasuerus’s wife. With her older cousin Mordecai, Esther foils the plot against God’s people. 

Summary of Esther 1:1–2:18 King Ahasuerus celebrates his accession to the throne with extravagant drinking parties for government officials and common citizens. He and his wife, Vashti, are not models of moral virtue for believers. Yet God uses the king’s dismissal of his wife to allow Esther to become queen. After careful preparation, beautiful Esther meets Ahasuerus, gains his favor, and becomes queen of Persia.

Summary of Esther 2:19–4:17 The story then moves to focus on Esther’s cousin and guardian, Mordecai. Mordecai’s discovery of a plot against Ahasuerus means that the king owes him a favor. Haman’s extreme prejudice against the Judeans threatens them with annihilation. Mordecai is shocked by Haman’s edict and goes into public mourning. Esther gradually comes to realize the seriousness of the situation and pledges her life in an attempt to save her people.

Summary of Esther 5–8 Esther does not make her intentions known immediately to the king and to Haman but waits for exactly the right time. Then Ahasuerus, who is unable to sleep, hears of Mordecai’s good deed and decides to honor him. Haman happens to arrive at the court just in time to become the king’s agent appointed to honor the hated Mordecai. Haman has hidden from Ahasuerus the full consequences of his murderous plan to wipe out the people of Judah. The king may be deceived, but God is not. Haman’s end fulfills the words of Proverbs 26:27: “Whoever digs a pit will fall into it, and a stone will come back on him who starts it rolling.” Ironically, King Ahasuerus then gives Mordecai permission to issue a decree that countermands Haman’s decree. The Judeans are given the right to defend themselves if attacked and so take vengeance on their enemies. 

Summary of Esther 9–10 When the 13th of Adar arrives, the Judeans ably defend themselves. They destroy those who hate them but take no plunder from their enemies. The Festival of Purim is established by Mordecai and Esther to celebrate the destruction of Haman and other Persian enemies. A postscript praises Ahasuerus and Mordecai for providing the people with good government and for seeking their welfare.

Specific Law Themes

The Book of Esther characterizes the weak and precarious state of the Judeans during the exile, who were especially vulnerable to attack and became targets of criticism due to their unique teachings and practices. Esther is rebuked for hiding her distinctiveness (a member of Israel, the covenant people) and her decision to hide from rather than confront the evil that threatens her people. The book also shows how God deals with those who hold grudges and harbor hatred, such as Haman and his family.

Specific Gospel Themes

The story illustrates God’s providence, who delivers His people from whom the Savior, Jesus, would eventually be born.

Commentary on Esther 1:1–2:18 God’s people must resist societal influences that encourage extravagant materialism. God graciously cares for us, providing us with the necessities of daily living (1 Timothy 6:8). For example, God will often use evil deeds to work His will, as the story of Esther shows. At the beginning of the story, her future looks bright. But perilous times were coming for her and for her people. In all that happens, God is silently at work directing affairs. At the critical moment, Esther would be in a position to play a decisive role in delivering Israel. “God moves in a mysterious way His wonders to perform” (LSB 765:1). We walk by faith and not by sight.

Commentary on Esther 2:19–4:17 At a crucial time in the future, when the fate of many Judeans will hang in the balance, Mordecai’s good deed will have saving consequences. Events that seem unconnected come together in God’s plan to save His people. In contrast, bigotry and intolerance like Haman’s continue in our modern world. The danger is that we criticize these attitudes in others but fail to see the log in our own eye (Lk 6:41). Our prejudices can put barriers in the way of people hearing the Good News of salvation. As with Esther, God may provide us with positions, wealth, and talents that enable us to serve the cause of God’s people and the Gospel. Thanks be to God, in the fullness of time He sent our Deliverer to redeem us from every failure. Unlike Esther, our Deliverer had to die for His people and the whole world. He freed us to serve under His rule as His witnesses.

Commentary on Esther 5–8 Ultimately, it is God who inspires Esther’s delay in announcing her intentions in order to give Haman more rope with which to hang himself. We are often impatient, eager to hurry things along. When God seems to act too slowly on our behalf, may we still trust His wisdom and continue to pray with confidence, “Your good and gracious will be done.” For God humbles those who glorify themselves. In striking contrast to Haman is Christ Jesus, who “did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped,” but humbled Himself for our salvation (Philippians 2:6–8). A loving Father, not random chance, governs world affairs and rules all things for the good of His people. The hands that were nailed to the cross are the hands of God, who cares for you and me. When we find ourselves entangled in sin and its consequences, our only escape is to turn in repentance to Christ and receive from Him forgiveness and renewal. Self-defense is not forbidden in Scripture, but Jesus has overturned the law of revenge for believers (Matthew 5:38–39). Leave vengeance to the Lord and the governing officials, who are called to administer justice (Romans 12:19; 13:3–4).

Commentary on Esther 9–10 God preserves His Old Testament people because from them would come the Savior of the world. God controls history to preserve His elect and fulfill His promises. That is still true today. God works behind the scenes to bring about victory when we are helpless, but God rescues us by sending His Son, who took our sin, our punishment, and our death upon Himself, paying the price for our redemption. We have gotten relief from our enemies. Our sorrow has been turned to joy and our mourning into feasting because the Holy Spirit has worked faith in our hearts. We celebrate our victory at the festivals of Christmas, Easter, and Pentecost.

There is more on Esther and the rest of the Old Testament! 

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